Trade Lofa Tatupu? That’s just crazy talk. He’s a Pro Bowler, a captain, and seemingly every fan (myself included) wears his jersey on gameday. All things included, from his on-field leadership to his marketing capabilities, this is a bonehead move. Right?
In just five seasons, Tatupu has established himself as one of the greatest defensive players in Seattle Seahawks history. A three-time Pro Bowl selection (2005, 2006, 2007) and an All-Pro (2007), the team’s middle linebacker is one of the faces of this franchise, along with Matt Hasselbeck.
Why trade him then?
1) Because he’s valuable.
2) Because a worthy replacement is already on the roster.
3) Because the Seahawks are two years away from seriously contending.
Let’s start by examining reason No. 1: Lofa Tatupu is valuable.
Heck, any true-blue Seahawk fan can tell you that. The man is the captain of the defense, a leader in the locker room, and, on top of all that, is one of the most physically gifted players at his position, as well.
Tatupu is so valuable at such an important position (the middle linebacker is, in essence, the quarterback of the defense) that every other NFL team would have some interest in acquiring his services. Because the Seahawks have so many holes at so many positions, it would only make sense for the organization to attempt to fill those holes (via draft, most likely) by bartering with a tradeable commodity, which Tatupu is.
At this point in his career, in the middle of his prime, and even in spite of a pectoral injury that has ended his 2009 season, Tatupu’s value could not be much higher.
Reason No. 2, a worthy replacement is already on the roster.
Who is that worthy replacement, you ask? That would be David Hawthorne, the second-year linebacker from Texas Christian University. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008, Hawthorne has quickly emerged as a playmaker on the Hawks defense.
Filling in for the injured Tatupu, Hawthorne has picked off three passes and notched two sacks after only three career starts. A special-teamer through all of 2008 and the early part of 2009, Hawthorne has made a name for himself as a relentless attacker who knows only one speed: turbo. That energy, along with his inherent abilities, has earned Hawthorne the right to become a full-time starter at this level.
But why choose Hawthorne over Tatupu?
Two reasons quickly surface: Age, and affordability. Hawthorne is 24 years of age and makes the league minimum. Tatupu, on the other hand, will be 27 on November 15 and earns an average of $6 million annually through 2015.
But does any of that mean that Hawthorne, who was passed over by every NFL team seven times in the draft, can adequately replace Tatupu? We won’t know the answer until Hawthorne is given the opportunity to respond and be the full-time starter. But for all accounts and purposes, David Hawthorne has earned the opportunity to be The Guy.
Reason No. 3, the Seahawks are two years away (or more) from seriously contending.
Face it, they are. There are gaping holes in the defensive secondary, the offensive and defensive lines, the running back position, and quarterback, where Matt Hasselbeck is nearing the twilight of his career. All that said, there are at least five positions that could benefit from top-tier draft selections who would then need time to adjust to the NFL.
It will take two drafts to address most, if not all, of these glaring needs. It will then take another season for each of the draftees to learn the team’s system and adapt to the speed of the NFL game. All told, that puts the Seahawks on the clock for two-three more years before we can expect them to become a perennial playoff contender once again (barring some sort of smoke-and-mirrors miracle or major free agent signings, of course).
With the team on the verge of rebuild mode, and the gleam of the postseason on the distant horizon, now is the time to capitalize on the value of veterans that will be exiting their primes when the team begins their return to glory. Which means that Tatupu, who would be turning 30 three years from now, is probably more useful to the Seahawks in the form of draft selections than he is as a middle linebacker.
It’s hard to swallow, I know, but it’s the reality of the situation. It’s time for the Seahawks to move on. Without Lofa Tatupu.